Starting the Conversation on Sex and Seniors

Starting the Conversation on Sex and Seniors

September 25, 2018

There’s no expiration date on sex. It’s for everyone. At any age.

That’s the message that Jane Fleishman, an expert on the sexual well-being of older adults, brought to our first fall Glenmeadow Learning program, Sexuality and Older Adults: Intimacy, with a Dash of Humor, held on the east campus of Bay Path University on September 21.

“We used to think that once you got older, you were beyond everything sexual,” Jane told our audience of roughly 60 people in their 50s to 90s. “All the research focuses on the problems, like erectile dysfunction and vaginal dryness. Of course, there are real problems with sex and aging, but there’s also a lot of joy.

“Create pleasure, be bold,” she added, noting that in her doctoral research she interviewed a woman who told Jane she had the best sex of her life in her 60s. “Let yourself think about pleasure in a new way. None of you are working. This is a room full of people who have time to have sex. Don’t delay!”

In her 90-minute talk, Jane talked to participants about research on the topic of sex and aging, offered tips for enhancing the sexual experience, and she got people talking about sex by leading them in a game. One important tip from Jane was that older adults should always use a condom when they have sex, even though there is no threat of pregnancy, because sexually transmitted infections are a real threat for older populations.

After working in the public sector for 30 years, Jane made the study of sexuality and older adults a focus in her life. She earned a doctoral degree from the Center for Human Sexuality Studies at Widener University in Pennsylvania and then became certified as a sexuality educator.

She writes a column on sex and aging for the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Live Well magazine in Northampton, Massachusetts. She also speaks on a radio show called “Sex Matters” on WHMP and has her own podcast. In December, Jane will lead a TEDx talk in Easthampton.

Jane said when she first raises the subject of sex and aging, there is usually not a lot of interest. But when people are willing to open their minds to the concept and listen, they quickly become engaged.

In her presentation, Jane used humor to warm people up to her topic. She also played a game called “Two Truths and a Lie,” through which she introduced some facts about sexuality in older adults.

For instance, she told the audience that sex can reduce an individual’s risk of prostate and breast cancers, as well as alleviate chronic pain and raise one’s threshold for pain. She said sexual arousal and orgasm causes our bodies to release endorphins that can elevate mood.

“I think we should prescribe sex for all those cranky people we have to deal with in life!” Jane joked.

With age, sexual positions may need to be adapted to compensate for back injuries, the pain from rheumatoid arthritis, or an inability to sit up. But that doesn’t mean older adults can’t have—and fully enjoy—sex.

Jane shared these tidbits:

  • Older adults should not see sex as a taboo subject but should, instead, continue to keep themselves informed on the topic.
  • Researchers say people are having sex through their 80s because “human beings are sexual and remain sexual throughout their lives.”
  • The sexual life that you led as a young person is one of the greatest predictors of the sexual life you will lead as an older person. “We should tell younger people to turn off the television in the bedroom,” she said to laughter.
  • In her own research, Jane found that the greatest predictors of sexual satisfaction for older adults is their satisfaction with the relationship they have with their partner and their own self-esteem.

“Most people think sex means penetration and intercourse,” Jane added. “There’s a lot of other ways to have sex and other ways to discover pleasure.”

Jane told the audience to be prepared before having sex—keeping medication, tissues, and condoms on hand—and otherwise planning ahead, like having a lubricant at the ready.

“And have your respirator nearby!” someone from the audience chimed in to a chorus of laughter.

Our next Glenmeadow Learning program, Dementia and Brain Health: Risk Factors, Interventions, Research, will be held Tuesday, Oct. 16, from 10 a.m. to noon. The program is free, but space is limited, and reservations are required. To register, contact Julie Jediny by phone at 413-355-5972 or by email at jjediny@glenmeadow.org, or register online at glenmeadow.org/events.

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